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Smith v. Toyota Motor Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 21, 2017

KRISTIN MARIE SMITH and LLOYD SMITH, Plaintiffs,
v.
TOYOTA MOTOR CORP., and TOYOTA, MOTOR SALES, U.S.A., INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          E. RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Response to Defendants' Objections to Rule 30(b)(6) Deposition Notice; Motion to Compel; and Request for Emergency Hearing [ECF No. 32].

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On April 28, 2016, Plaintiffs Kristin Smith and Lloyd Smith (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint alleging Kristin Smith sustained serious injuries in an accident during which her 1997 Toyota 4Runner rolled over. Plaintiffs allege design defects partly caused the rollover and assert claims in strict liability and negligence against Defendants Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Incorporated (“Defendants”) for allegedly defective design, manufacture, testing, marketing, warning, and distribution of the 4Runner. Plaintiffs also assert breach of warranty and loss of consortium claims.

         Plaintiffs submitted a Notice of Deposition to Defendants seeking testimony regarding sixteen topics. Defendants served objections and responses to Plaintiffs' Notice of Deposition. Relevant to this Motion, Defendants alleged discovery sought by Plaintiffs was overly broad, unduly burdensome, and disproportionate to the needs of the case as it covered a time period spanning more than thirty years and encompassed five distinctly different vehicles, including the Toyota Trekker and prior and subsequent generations of the 4Runner.

         Plaintiffs filed a Response to Defendants' objections. Plaintiffs state that although the parties narrowed the issues after meeting and conferring, disagreements remain as to the following topics listed in the Notice:

• Topic 1-Discovery pertaining to the Toyota Trekker.
• Topic 3-Discovery pertaining to all generations and model years of the 4Runner. Defendants seek to limit discovery to the third generation 1996-2002 4Runner model years.
• Topic 14-Computer Aided Engineering (“CAE”) related to the study of rollover resistance. Plaintiffs argue all CAE is relevant from 1997 to the present. Toyota seeks to limit discovery to the time of production of the 1997 4Runner.

         In their Motion to Compel and Request for Emergency Hearing, Plaintiffs ask the Court to issue an order 1) overruling Toyota's objections, 2) granting Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel full production of documents and witnesses as requested; and, 3) awarding Plaintiffs costs and fees associated with the Motion.

         Defendants filed their Response to Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel and Request for Oral Hearing [ECF No. 33]. Defendants maintain Toyota's burden of production outweighs any marginal relevance the requested materials might have to Plaintiffs' case. Defendants argue Plaintiffs cannot show substantial similarity between Smith's 1997 4Runner and the Trekker and other generations of 4Runners. With regard to Computer Aided Engineering, Defendants argue the broad time frame requested by Plaintiffs falls outside the appropriate scope of discovery. Defendants ask the Court to deny Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel and enter a protective order preventing future corporate representative deposition notices to Toyota Motor Corporation in this case. In addition, Defendants seek an award of costs related to the Motion and cancellation of the depositions.

         Pursuant to the parties' requests, on April 7, 2017, a hearing was held before the Court.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs ask the Court to compel Defendants to produce testimony and materials regarding the Toyota Trekker and prior and subsequent generations of the Toyota 4Runner. Plaintiffs argue this discovery is necessary to establish Toyota's knowledge of the risks of rollover and to fully understand the evolution of the design of the vehicle at issue in this case. Defendants argue the discovery sought by Plaintiffs is overly broad and burdensome. Moreover, Defendants contend Plaintiffs' requests are impermissible as the Trekker and other versions of the 4Runner are not sufficiently similar to the “third generation” 1996-2002 model years Toyota 4Runner at issue in this case.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), concerning the permissible scope of discovery, a party may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is (1) relevant to a party's claim or defense and (2) proportional to the needs of the case. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 26(b)(1). The proportionality prong takes into account “the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Id. “[D]iscovery may not be had on matters irrelevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action . . . .” Misc. Docket Matter No. 1 v. Misc. Docket Matter No. 2, 197 F.3d 922, 925 (8th Cir. 1999). A “threshold showing of relevance must be ...


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